Pitoniak: Bills Appear A Year Away

Pitoniak: Bills Appear A Year Away

I know what you’re thinking. You’re hoping EJ Manuel is this year’s Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson - a franchise-changing quarterback capable of immediately turning a basement dweller into a playoff team.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re hoping EJ Manuel is this year’s Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson - a franchise-changing quarterback capable of immediately turning a basement dweller into a playoff team.

And perhaps the Bills first first-round quarterback selection since Jim Kelly in 1983 will be that guy. But the odds of that happening are slim.

Heck, don’t forget it took Kelly a few years to make a difference and he was a 26-year-old rookie with two years USFL experience by the time he showed up in Buffalo.

Manuel is not as polished as the aforementioned trio who made the Washington Redskins, Indianapolis Colts and Seattle Seahawks relevant again. In all likelihood, Manuel will be a work in progress. There will be flashes of brilliance and bone-head rookie mistakes.

From what I’ve seen so far, I think he has the potential to be very good, but I just don’t see it happening overnight the way it did with RGIII, Luck and Wilson.

Which means a fan base that has shown the patience of Job is going to need to be patient again, and endure another playoff-less, losing season.

I think a repeat of last year’s 6-10 record or maybe even a step back to 5-11 is possible. I know that’s not what you want to hear, but this is a team with a bunch of young players coached by a bunch of young coaches who are implementing new offensive and defensive systems.

That said, I like the direction the franchise is headed. Doug Marrone has brought new energy to the team and knows what it’s like to work on football reclamation projects. He helped resuscitate the New Orleans Saints (as an offensive coordinator) and Syracuse University (as a head coach.) He knows how to handle the adversity that comes with rebuilding projects. I think he can get the job done here in time.

Although this fall’s focus will be on the pro football education and development of Manuel, the Bills also need to shore up a defense that has been historically bad in recent years, despite attempts at major upgrades.

New defensive coordinator Mike Pettine will employ many more blitzes than his read-and-react predecessor Dave Wannstedt. But Pettine may be a little more passive than he would like to be initially because he’ll be without Stephon Gilmore for eight weeks while he recuperates from wrist surgery. Gilmore, a second-year player, was rapidly developing into the shutdown corner essential to blitz-happy schemes Pettine favored while working under Jets head coach Rex Ryan in recent years. The Bills are weak at corner, so they may have to dial it back a bit, less they get torched.

Developing tackle Marcel Dareus into a Pro Bowl player will be another challenge for Pettine. Dareus was the third overall pick of the draft three years ago, but he hasn’t played like a third overall pick so far. Admittedly, he had some serious family issues he had to attend to last season, but the time for him to emerge as a star is now.

And speaking of stars, it’s time that defensive end Mario Williams, the NFL’s highest paid defender, earns his pay. He had 10 sacks, but he’s been soft at times. He needs to become a force. The Bills also would benefit if tackle Kyle Williams could stay healthy for an entire season. Rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso looks like he can become a sideline-to-sideline playmaker, but the Bills are going to have to live with the first-year mistakes that invariably will occur.

The strength of the team will be running back, where C.J. Spiller is on the brink of stardom. He will get more touches than he had last year, but I worry about the Bills overworking him. Veteran running back Fred Jackson is still a good player and a nice change of pace. And third-string running back Tashard Choice has proven he can be productive in relief.

Again, I like the new emphasis on youth and speed. But there will be a learning curve here for EJ and his peers.

So brace yourself, Bills fans, for another sub-par won-lost record. I know that’s going to be difficult to swallow, but try to focus on the progress of the young guys. The experiences of this season could lay the foundation for a playoff run in 2014.

Award-winning columnist and best-selling author Scott Pitoniak has followed the Bills since the late 1960s and covered them since 1985. He has written six books about the team’s history, including “My Life on a Special Team,” with Bills special teams great Steve Tasker that is available in bookstores and at amazon.com.
Page: [[$index + 1]]
comments powered by Disqus